"A Moon for the Misbegotten"
Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
The ghost of Eugene O’Neill haunts the Long Wharf stage, as do the ghosts of Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst (remembered for their definitive Broadway performances in 1973). And, even more significantly, O’Neill’s own family ghosts (and skeletons) preside at Long Wharf’s revival.
No matter. Director Gordon Edelstein and company face the ghosts bravely and take on the challenge. As it turns out, this current revival of “A Moon for the Misbegotten” has much to commend it, with a brilliant portrayal by Alyssa Bresnahan, who plays the key figure Josie, and excellent support from most of the cast. Edelstein tunes into the essence of the play, interpreting it with sensitivity, his work enhanced by Ming Cho Lee’s lyrical set and Jennifer Tipton’s superb lighting.
This final O’Neill drama is frankly autobiographical. A follow-up of “A Long Day’s Journey into Night,” the play zooms in on Jamie Tyrone (stand-in for O’Neill’s older brother James O’Neill, Jr.). While the story emanates from the playwright’s imagination, his portrayal of the doomed, alcoholic Jamie is all too real. James O’Neill, Jr. did in fact die from alcoholism at an early age.
The story begins with a spirited exchange within an Irish-American farm family—the earthy, tough-talking Josie, her oafish brother, and her hard-as-nails father. (For O’Neill, who often had trouble with dialogue, the Hogan family exchanges, rendered in Irish brogue, are most believable.) Into the mix wanders Jamie Tyrone, the Hogan’s landlord and Josie’s secret love. Played out through the night and into the dawn, these characters struggle with love, sin, spirituality, and redemption.
O’Neill tended to see women as either whores or madonnas. In “Moon” Josie turns out to fall into the latter category, though she vehemently insists she is a slut. Jamie (in real life and in “Moon”) is beyond redemption, it would seem. But Josie, with Jamie in her arms, his head on her breast, becomes his priest/confessor and his salvation. “Now you’ll have peace, at least for a little while,” she says in comforting him. But she is also his surrogate mother (replacing the mother that O’Neill and his brother, in real life, lost through drug addiction).
This is the most Catholic of O’Neill’s plays and has, in fact, been described as O’Neill’s Mass to his brother. Death and resurrection, sin and absolution, are all here—a very Catholic take on the human condition and man’s relation to God.
Bresnahan and Bill Raymond (as Josie’s father) offer fine portrayals. The bantering and insults which fly between the two, covering their intense love for each other, are a high delight. Bresnahan uses her bodily movements, facial expressions and rich voice to shape the character and stay with it consistently. Wynn Harmon and Steve French also offer first-rate character studies for their two smaller parts. Only John Procaccino in the pivotal role of Jamie seems oddly miscast. There is something of the suave Jamie Tyrone here, in his neat suit-and-tie outfit and his slight Alan Alda look. But one searches vainly for the embittered, vulnerable character within. Moreover Procaccino has an ungainly shuffle, with all his limbs at cross purposes to each other and living lives of their own. There are one or two Procaccino speeches, delivered at high volume, which prove to be moving. But mostly, this actor appears to skim the surface—and clumsily at that.
Yet, on balance there is much to commend this revival—and indeed it is an opportunity to see one of O’Neill’s last strong pieces.
-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 3, 2005